“The Great Gatsby” envisions a fantastical bygone era

I have a confession to make. I did not read The Great Gatsby in high school like everyone else…

Yes, it was a required reading that I sort of half-heartedly leafed through before just searching for the Sparknotes online to pass a test. So my opinion on Buz Luhrmann’s adaptation of the famous Fitzgerald novel (though by no means not the first attempt at bringing Gatsby to the big screen), may be a little limited. But what I can safely say is that after walking out of this movie, I can only kick myself for missing out on such a great story for so long.

The Great Gatsby offers an alternative to the summer movie experience by being more about an enriching plot than the number of explosions. But in true summer movie fashion, it does not skimp on the visuals or the spectacle.

Gatsby closely follows the story of a young man named Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire), who’s moved from the sleepy Midwest to seek his fortune in the hustle and bustle of New York City, right at the zenith of the Roaring 20’s. And in this spiraling decade of excess and decadence, Nick finds himself the next door neighbor of a mysterious, self-made billionaire who seems to be at the center of it all: Jay Gatsby (Leonardo Dicaprio). To Nick’s surprise, Gatsby takes a shining to him and takes him by the hand, leading him to his side of New York City; where the parties are bigger, the morals are looser, and anything your heart desires is only an arm’s length away.

It’s the performances and the visual presentation that lift this from being simply an adaption and make it well worth the price of admission. Fitzgerald’s vision is brought to life in the best way possible. The research done into the decade of the setting shows as Luhrmann leaves no cultural touchstone of the 20’s unturned.

Every set piece from the story is lovingly rendered, from the madness of Gatsby’s house parties to the grime and grit of New York City. The soundtrack’s curious decision to juxtapose classic jazz and swing band music of New York’s past with the titans of New York’s present (a la Jay-Z), is a shaky gamble that works better than it should, and succeeds in adding a fantastical feel to the story.

Tobey Maguire  turns in a solid performance as Nick Carraway, contrasting his humility with his deep resentment and a dose of dry comedy to boot. Carey Mulligan’s “Daisy” is also well played. But, by far, the one who simply steals the show is Dicaprio as Gatsby, whose  trademark charm is perfectly suited for the role.

Rated PG-13: for some violent images, sexual content, smoking, partying, and brief language.

Runtime: 143 min

Grade: A+

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